Norian Maro is a performance group based in Jeju-do which was founded in 2005 as a samulnori group. It has since broadened its range, so that the piece presented at the Edinburgh Fringe this year was a mixture of shamanistic and folk music as well as the familiar village percussion sounds, together with some contemporary dance moves.
Pudasi – a Jeju dialect word for a local gut – is inspired by the myth of Ieodo, an imaginary island off Jeju-do where people mysteriously disappear.
The stage opens to a young girl sleeping – and she seems to be having a nightmare. Why her sleep might be disturbed in some way is not clear, though a surtitle projected onto the back of the stage explains that the girl has met a woman called Pudasi on the island of Ieodo in her dream. According to the Korean government website for the Ieodo oceanic research station that has been established on the rocks which are 5 metres below sea level:
Ieodo is known as an island of fantasy and nirvana in the folk tale of Jeju-do residents. The folk tale goes that anyone seeing this land cannot return alive. That might be because fishermen could see Ieodo Rock only when the waves hit over 10m high, which didn’t allow them for safe return to their home.
As the girl wakes up, the ensemble enters from the back of the audience, led by a shaman singing a solemn chant in a piercing, haunting voice. She bears aloft a model of a small fishing boat – perhaps one of the boats that caused the death of so many of the men in the legends. As the performance continues, the solo performer is blessed by another shaman. A solo percussion interlude follows and then a tearful unaccompanied Arirang with solo dance. This was the emotional core of the performance, and brought a tear to the eye of many an audience member. Clearly the invocation has had its effect because from then on all grief seems to have been exorcised and it’s non-stop fun with pungmul, dancing and then the full ensemble cast.
It was an entertaining spectacle, but it would have been nice to understand what each element of the performance was meant to signify, if anything. And given that so many Korean traditional performances feature the ribbon dance with samulnori percussion, it would have been helpful to have some description of which parts of the performance were unique to the Jeju performing tradition.
But maybe the Pudasi story was no more than a framework, an excuse to stitch together different contrasting styles from Korean folk music, and it worked very well on this level, particularly with the more modern dance elements performed by the central character.
What also worked nicely was the charming welcome that the troupe gave to the audience. It was a 10am start, and we were all provided with barley tea and a little cake.
In a nutshell: shamanism and samulnori from Jeju-do; a little confusing but very enjoyable.